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Songs of Distance
for soprano and piano
(2006)

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This set of seven songs was composed for the soprano Mei Zhong of Ball State University and is included in her Anthology of Chinese Songs, Volume II: Traditional and Modern Chinese Art Songs. For information about that anthology, please contact Leyerle Publications. Questions about buying Songs of Distance separately can be sent via e-mail to Paul SanGregory.

(Performance duration for all seven songs: ca. 17-18 minutes.)

 


1) Farewell Gift, II
2) Evenings at Xuyi County
3) Liangzhou Verses
4) The Jade Terrace
5) Longxi Verses
6) Untitled
7) A Streamside Dwelling

 

The words for these songs are poems taken from the collection "300 Tang Poems" and are written in Mandarin Chinese (English translations and pronunciations guides are included with the songs). Although the poems all appear within the same collection, different authors wrote them at different times so there is no direct relationship between them. Even so, the poems selected for this cycle work well as a unified group because they all share the common thread of separation from home and loved ones. It is for this reason that I eventually began thinking of them as representing a single story. So although no characters are described and no real action takes place, I hear these songs as forming the outlines of a miniature quasi opera about a once powerful man who has discovered the tragedy of politics.

Because the poems are so much a part of Chinese culture, it seems natural that songs based on them should include Chinese musical influences. To that end, I have tried incorporating musical gestures, as well as scales, rhythms and performance techniques that one might be likely to hear in Chinese music. However, as a Western-trained composer, I also hope to create the sort of drama that is often heard in art songs, or even opera. The result is a hybrid of styles that, I hope, will bring to mind the people and landscapes of China.

There are some technical aspects that performers should be aware of. In terms of Chinese style, my ideal was to create a sense of clarity, simplicity and elegance--with a certain amount of the expressive intonation (pitch bends and grace notes) that is found in much Chinese music. Singers should note that, generally, grace notes are to be placed on the beat. Also, ornamentation and melodic shapes are often used to help pronounce the Chinese words more clearly (approximating the rising and falling intonation of the words). Listening to music played on Chinese instruments (erhu, for example), or listening to dramatic speaking and singing in Chinese (expressively read poetry, or Beijing opera performance) will help singers better understand this performance practice. Where words are to be recited, singers who can speak Chinese should exaggerate the intonation of words according that tradition. Following the Western art song tradition, both the singer and pianist are important for the creation of drama and mood. In this regard, the pianist must sometimes 'become' a Chinese zither or a temple bell, for example, and at other times support the singer in a more traditional way. Where necessary, special notes and pedaling indications have been added in the score for the pianist.